Even before voters get to decide in November whether to legalize recreational marijuana use in New Jersey, possession of small amounts of pot could be decriminalized if Gov. Phil Murphy signs legislation that passed the Assembly on Thursday.
First, though, the Senate would have to approve the Assembly decriminalization bill, or a Senate measure that would be even more lenient on the possession of up to a pound of cannabis. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has yet to decide whether to post a decriminalization bill and wants to be sure its passage won’t hurt the chances of the legalization ballot question.
The marijuana bill was one of eight approved Thursday that supporters called a package of social-justice reforms. All of the bills cleared the Assembly after moving quickly through committee Monday in response to the recent killings of a number of African Americans and nationwide protests that have followed. Most of the other bills deal with police-related reforms, including the classification of chokeholds as use of force that would only be justified in limited circumstances.
Making possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a civil penalty with a $50 fine is only part of A-1897/A-4269, which passed the Assembly 63-10 with 13 Republicans joining all Democrats present in voting “yes.” The measure would also reduce penalties for possessing up to five pounds of marijuana or hashish; expand expungement for prior offenses; prevent discrimination by employers, banks or landlords based on these drug crimes and make information about marijuana and hashish offenses confidential.